Monday January 16, 2012

Part of a Balanced Breakfast

In an interview with Serious Eats last week, I confessed my borderline clinical obsession with cereal. I’ve become so untrustworthy around the stuff I’ve formally banned it from the house. The underlying problem comes from my inability to see a box of cereal as anything other than an individual serving. I can’t even psych myself into good behavior with those mini-box assortments; “cereal buffets” as I call them.

The part I love most, the most glorious part, comes at the end when a few choice morsels slowly swirl around the bowl, awash in richly fortified milk. A fleeting pleasure, gone in a few bites. In shameful desperation I try to prolong that moment, artificially sustaining it with another sprinkling of cereal, a fresh splash of milk.

Pathetic, no?

Lucky Charms Dessert

Cereal milk has become a trademarked thing, giving legitimacy to the cravings of a generation. I haven’t ever had the pleasure of tasting Cereal Milk™ and while I hope to take a swig next time I visit NYC, I don’t anticipate ever making a batch for myself. Partly because I know I lack the courage to throw the spent cereal away after steeping. (My religious convictions mandate a proper burial, i.e., ritual consumption.) But beyond that, I find the underlying concept too literal for my tastes.

Which I don’t mean as a criticism; to the contrary, I see the codification of cereal milk into a proper recipe as a win for taste buds everywhere. But because I spend a lot of time developing recipes meant to taste like some childhood favorite, reaching for those very things as ingredients feels antithetical.

Not a good thing or a bad thing, just not my thing.

marshmallows floating in milk

I’ve never met/spoken to/crossed paths with Christina Tosi or even read her book, but I understand that we grew up around the same time in roughly the same slice of the country, and I assume from that we must have had not dissimilar childhood culinary experiences. Fruity Pebbles for breakfast, Oreos in our lunchbox, layer cakes baked by mom, ice cream from Baskin-Robbins. We both wound up attending culinary school in New York (though not the same one). But our different lives, different approaches, different cravings, different attitudes mean we channel our nostalgia in fundamentally different ways.

When it comes to cereal themed desserts, Tosi creates ones that taste like something straight out of childhood because she’s loaded it with the very cereals we ate as kids. Kind of like photorealism for the culinary arts.

I take more of an Impressionistic approach, I guess. I want the taste of cereal milk, not cereal milk itself. I want a single glace to make you feel like you’ve got your pjs on, nursing a bowl of cereal in front of the television on a Saturday morning.

cereal milk dessert

The most important part of that experience, for me, comes from the texture only crispy little cereal marshmallows can provide.

The exquisite nails-on-a-chalkboard pain of biting into one. The dusty pleasure of crushing one against the roof of your mouth. The way the milk dissolves them into slippery sugar beads. Recreating that texture in a marshmallow takes almost no effort, just a little time and few tweaks to the recipe.

Meanwhile, panna cotta does a bang up job playing leftover milk. Whisking the mixture prior to refrigeration makes milk bubbles that hold their shape, thanks to the gelatin, creating the illusion of milk freshly poured into the bowl.

As illustrated on every box of cereal, I recommend a tart glass of orange juice to round out the experience. Well that, and some cartoons. (My fave? Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea…)

Lucky Charms Panna Cotta

Crispy Cereal Marshmallows

posted byStellaand filed under:  Gluten Free  Sarah Jane   Vanilla

30 comments and counting

Jan 17, 2012 · 12:38 AM

Panna Cotta. Seriously. What a fantastic idea! And cereal is banned for me because I don’t see it much as a meal but as an endless and mindless snack.

 · Nelly Rodriguez ·

Jan 17, 2012 ·  1:58 AM

We’re most set in our ways at breakfast and desert. A Japanese lunch of sushi or udon is easy to love, but a Japanese breakfast (cold rice, sour pickled plums, smoked fish) seems quite odd to us first thing in the morning. Likewise, a red bean paste confection for desert. Pastry genius is innovation circumscribed by nostalgia. Irresistable.

 · jim · 

Jan 17, 2012 ·  7:10 AM

this was such a darling post! so clever – love it!

 · Christybean · 

Jan 17, 2012 · 10:29 AM

Haha, I’m the same way if it’s chocolate cereal, or honey granola.
This looks like such a cool idea – never thought to make cereal panna cotta. I’d love to try it!

 · Kiri W. ·

Jan 17, 2012 ·  1:09 PM

This is SO cute!

 · RavieNomNoms ·

Jan 17, 2012 ·  3:04 PM

Eeeeee, that last photo made me squeal in delight! And I’m with you on your thoughts about cereal milk and its applications!

 · Julie ·

Jan 17, 2012 ·  3:11 PM

now thats a psychedelic cereal

 · tom@morethanpepper ·

Jan 17, 2012 ·  7:08 PM

@Nelly, yes, yes, yes, that is my exact problem! It’s endless! How do you stop eating cereal? That’s crazy, you can’t stop…

@jim, I love that bit about innovation, wow! I lived in Japan for a while and my parents shipped me a HUGE appliance sized box filled with different cereals. In Japan I could get some cereal, but just one or two varieties. I’ll admit parts of Japanese breakfast grew on me, miso soup and broiled fish, but having salad at breakfast still weirds me out.

@Christybean, aw, thanks honey!

@Kiri, I hope you do! It’s got such a nice silky texture, not unlike thick, sludgy cereal milk.

@RavieNomNoms, thank you ma’am!

@Julie, I’m so thrilled to hear it, I’ll have to tell Sarah. I love, love, love these photos. She’s so genius.

@tom, indeed!


Jan 18, 2012 · 11:10 AM

I am afraid I may forever alienate you when I tell you that I absolutely hate cereal milk. I have a lifetime of cats who have loved me like no other because they always got to drink my milk when I was done with the cereal.

My husband, on the other hand, is as much of a freak about his cereal as you are. I believe your recipe may have just made our Valentine’s dinner menu.

 · Shanti · 

Jan 18, 2012 ·  4:28 PM

Here’s a random/techie/probably nothing you can do about it question: why do almost none of the posts I get notified about in email appear when I visit your blog?

 · Michal ·

Jan 18, 2012 ·  5:00 PM

@Michal, easy answer, if I understand your question correctly. The email newsletter contains both my recipes and blog posts. Recipes are all filed under and blog posts are all filed under Only blog posts appear on the homepage.

It started out that way because I’m not always able to post pictures with my recipes, but I like to always have a great photo to show off on the front page. Just click on the recipe box at the bottom of the page, or the recipe tab above and you’ll find all of the recipes you’ve been emailed, but don’t see under blog. Hope that helps! (Ok, it sounds really confusing now that I type it up, sorry!!)


Jan 19, 2012 ·  9:19 AM

HOORAY!!! Something that sounds even more delicious than normal-type panna cotta! totally love the photos, too.

 · Mallowsota · 

Jan 19, 2012 · 10:20 AM

@Shanti, oh no! You’re one of those people. Haha, just kidding. Well, I hope the fact that it taste “like” cereal milk but not exactly like it might help you choke down a bite or two. You’re a kind woman to make something for your husband that isn’t your favorite! Hope he gets you something awesome for Valentine’s Day in return!

@Mallowsota, I know right? Normal type is pretty grand in the first place, but this will send you to the moooooooon. So are you craving panna cotta by chance? Just asking. And yeah, Sarah is such a photo genius. Love her!


Jan 24, 2012 · 12:15 PM

This post is far too close to how I feel about cereal. After taking a year off, I have tried to behave and buy it now. I still am sorry to say that I get excited when I make a box last more than two days. Glad to know I am not alone.

 · Bewitching · 

Jan 24, 2012 ·  3:15 PM

Strangely enough, I hate milk…to the extent that I eat my cereal dry. That being said, this looks delicious! I think I could put away a bowl (or two) of cereal milk flavored panna cotta!

 · Mindy ·

Jan 24, 2012 ·  8:02 PM

@Bewitching, you’ve made it last two whole days? I thought that kind of willpower was only a legend…

@Mindy, hardcore! Dry cereal sounds really…dry. Haha. It’ll definitely help your cause that panna cotta is loaded with other ingredients and flavors.


Jan 25, 2012 ·  2:48 PM

As for the cereal love, you and my 6 year old daughter could hang out and be super happy on this subject, she would totally get you Awesome idea with the panna cotta. I usually use David Lebovitz’s recipe but lately its been less creamy and too firm??
Take care…

 · Gerry @ Foodness Gracious ·

Jan 26, 2012 ·  1:55 PM

@Gerry, panna cotta’s a funny thing. It can vary so much based on the dairy used or even the brand of gelatin. And your 6 year old? My kinda girl!


Jan 31, 2012 ·  7:03 PM

So cute! 可愛い!お元気ですか?

 · Kemi ·

Feb 01, 2012 ·  4:56 PM

Those bubbles are so neat! I’m mega impressed that you got that detail.

For me, I love cereal, but I’m not super crazy about the milk at the end. I usually put just enough milk in my cereal to have a teeny bit on each obnoxiously over-filled spoonful. On occasion, I even eat cereal with… Water. Weird. I know.

 · Kaitlin ·

Feb 04, 2012 · 12:37 PM

@Kemi, 元気、元気!!けみさんは?レストランが忙しくて、生活は仕事ばっかりみたいですけど、すごく好きです。^^コメントをありがとうね。 


Feb 15, 2012 ·  5:36 PM

This is utterly AMAZING. I love the milk bubbles captured in the panna cotta— you totally had me fooled into thinking this was a bowl of cereal until the last picture. Pure genius.

And Lucky Charms were my absolute FAVORITE sugary cereal growing up— we weren’t allowed them in our house, but every so often my mother would cave to our incessant whining. I would carefully eat all of the little cereal pieces first, ensuring that the freeze dried marshmallows had enough time to soften and goo out into a perfect sugary bite at the end of the bowl. Oh, memories!

 · The Cozy Herbivore ·

Feb 15, 2012 ·  6:13 PM

@The Cozy Herbivore, okay, seriously, you get me. You get this. YES! The perfect, semi-dissolved little marshmallow bits are the stuff of dreams.


Mar 05, 2012 · 10:57 PM

I must admit, one of the reasons I picked up Tosi’s book was because it reminded me of your blog. The “nostalgia baking” allure was too much.

And now both of you have a cereal flavored panna cotta. My mind is boggling.

 · Sqoozh · 

Jun 23, 2016 ·  7:33 PM

I like cereal any time of day. My problem is that unless it’s oats based, it doesn’t fill me.

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